George Caleb Bingham grew up in America during the 1800s. His father died when he was only twelve, leaving his son and wife to try and provide for the family. By the time Bingham was 19, however, he was painting portraits for $20 each, often completing a painting in a single day. From there is painting career spread. Bingham traveled all across the United States and spent time abroad as well, studying the Old Masters in Europe at museums such as the Louvre in Paris.
Bingham’s artwork is vast and varied. A genre that he often painted were tradesmen sailing up and down the Missouri River as can be seen in Bingham’s Fur Traders Descending the Missouri. In the painting two men sit in canoe with their wares and small cat tied to the front of the boat. They are supposed to depict fur tradesmen who were half Native American and half American, a growing population in during the time, especially out in the western United States. It is a quiet scene with the sun rising over the water in tones of orange and yellow. The tradesmen seem aware that they are being painted, staring directly out at the viewer. Even the cat watches, just a dark form, its features hidden in shadow and fur.
Another genre that Bingham often painted was landscapes. One such painting is Mountain Landscape. It a serene mountain scene that Bingham has constructed for us. Tall mountains rise in the background. A river meanders lazily by. The foreground of the painting is covered in deep shadows as the morning sun has only yet reached the tops of the farthest hills. It is only in the light that we can tell that the mountains are snow covered, rivulets of snows cascading down the slopes of the red-orange hills. A waterfall can be seen in the distance hidden among the shadows where the snow has melted from the hills and runs down to form the river flowing through the valley. Low growing plant life lies on either side of the river. Small trees poke out between craggy rocks and outcroppings. A dusting of shadow covered grass covers everything that isn’t plain stone.Bingham was a great American artist that captured much of the life and culture of the early days of the American west and the American frontier. His paintings stand as a testament to the beauty and culture of the time period and location. The beautiful works of Bingham, sometimes referred to by historians as Luminist in style, remain wonderful pieces today and hang in major museums both in America and abroad.